Talking cents in pharma? PhRMA finally launches campaign to discuss drug costs

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Critics of PhRMA's earlier reputation-saving efforts have questioned whether the trade group could successfully rehab the industry's image without addressing drug costs directly.

Probably one of the last things the pharma industry wants to talk about today is the cost of drugs. Or does it? Industry trade group PhRMA has launched new advertising meant to tackle the issue head-on.

The national campaign, “Let’s Talk About Cost,” is a specific print, radio, digital and social effort, but that moniker will also now serve as the branded umbrella for all of PhRMA’s cost and value communications that have been going on for years. That includes Share the Savings discussions around rebates and discounts, and the Value Collaborative effort to engage leaders on reform issues.

“We’ve been actively making sure that we are putting the cost and value of medicines in perspective for many years now. Too often though, so many of the conversations still focus on costs and spending from 2014, which we know was an anomaly year,” Holly Campbell, senior director of communications at PhRMA, said in an interview, referencing the year that saw the introduction of expensive hepatitis C cures. “Unfortunately, those are still the points most often used in conversations. We need to make sure the new facts and trends moving forward on medicine costs and spending are reflected.”

The initial print ad, which ran last week in The Wall Street Journal, was a series of four questions, including “Why am I paying more than my insurer for my medicine?” and “Who decides what I pay for my medicine?” The ad redirects readers to the custom website at phrma.org/letstalkaboutcost for the answers.

The other part of the cost effort is acknowledging the struggle some patients face to pay for medicines they need and help them to find answers, Campbell said. The campaign will also highlight the online resource Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a PhRMA kind of clearinghouse website where patients can get information about reduced price or free prescription medication programs through pharma companies and third-party providers.  

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The new cost savings advertising umbrella works in conjunction with PhRMA’s broader Go Boldly branding initiative to strengthen the pharma industry’s reputation. The body has spent millions on that science-focused effort, which it unveiled in January, but critics have questioned whether the industry could really salvage its battered reputation without even mentioning the controversial cost issue.